Cancer isn’t something we particularly like to talk about, but it’s something that affects millions of us.
According to Macmillan, there are currently around 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK, a number the charity expects to rise to four million by 2030. Multiply that number several times to get all the family members, friends and colleagues affected by a loved one who has the cruel disease, and suddenly it’s pretty much most of the population.
One of those affected is David Shutts (OBE), who was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer shortly after his fiftieth birthday. It came – unsurprisingly – as a major blow, as he explains:
Like so many people, I was a professional guy, I was working in a good job, I had a good career. I’d been a naval officer for a long time, I was enjoying life. My cancer diagnosis came along and fairly took the wind out of my sails.
There followed a period of upheaval and strife as treatment took place, and half a year later it became apparent to Shutts he was never going to work full-time again. He managed to negotiate with his employer to work one day a week.
It suited me. It suited them more than it suited me, but it was ok. But it struck me that I wanted to earn more money and to do more things.
And this is the real kicker with cancer. Although Shutts has a wealth of useful experience and skills, and even though he’d come through the other side after the gruelling treatment, he couldn’t apply for the available jobs out there. Even a part-time job demanded he was able to work for set days, and he was just unable to guarantee that he would be fit and healthy to do that.
There were a lot of people in my position who were probably sat around at home, who had a lot of experience and skills but actually had no output for it. But there was no way they could get a job as nobody knows they exist. I call it the invisible talent pool.
Shutts began thinking about how this pool of experienced people could help meet the skills shortages affecting UK organisations, made up of so many small and micro businesses, and came up with the idea of Astriid - Available Skills for Training, Refreshing, Improvement, Innovation and Development. The Astriid app is aimed at connecting individuals who have a particular skill to offer with those businesses who have a short-term requirement for a piece of work.
They don’t need a financial director for 52 weeks a year, but they need some support with their financial situation and strategy. They don’t need a social media marketer for 52 weeks a year, but they would benefit from having somebody to help them. On the other side, you’ve got a bunch of people like me who would love to help businesses, if only each knew about the other.
You could post on Astriid as an employer, I’m looking for an accountant for two days a week forever. But actually, I think Astriid might come into its own when you look at your to-do list and all the things in the bottom third that still need to be done but you never get round to doing.
A matching service
Astriid is built on Salesforce Community Cloud, and the firm was involved from the ground up in the app’s development.
Simon Short, Executive Vice President, Salesforce Success Cloud EMEA, says the idea was to make it a very simple process for either an individual or a business to register. It takes no more than 10 minutes, covering details about skills, background and how much an individual is able to work; or what a particular business is after. Short adds:
We’re doing a matching service. How do we make sure we can match those skills to what’s out there. We’re open to any business in the UK. We’re starting with a UK focus, but we see an opportunity to broaden its horizons later on.
We’re trying to target this to people who have long-term, chronic illness whatever that may be. People who can’t commit to a full-time job or a regular schedule, whether it be cancer or heart conditions or anything really that stops someone being able to take on the normal routine of a full-time or part-time job.
Short says that Community Cloud is the perfect fit for the app, as the technology is all about connecting individuals to the eco-system and partners. Salesforce is also one of the more prominent and successful tech vendors when it comes to doing good, aided by initiatives like the 1-1-1 scheme, where the firm donates one percent of people’s time, its product and its equity to community projects around the world.
With Astriid, Salesforce has gone a step further with its newly-launched Success Cloud, helping the founders build it from scratch rather than simply providing the technology or support. The app has had involvement from Salesforce staff in the UK, France, Brazil, Morocco and Germany, covering everything from UX to development to marketing. Short adds:
There’s such interest in this at Salseforce. I would want to make sure we’re also supporting it once it gets into full flow and operational use. I can see all sorts of opportunities. We run many events, for example. You always need extra capabilities to support them; I have people that need mentoring. As David said, the to-do list that never quite gets done.
Astriid is a not-for-profit organisation – the team are currently going through the process of registering it as a charity – and there is no charge to use the app. Short explains that the app will point businesses to individuals who have the right profile match, and it is then up to the company how they engage that person; some people will expect payment, some will be happy to do it for free. Short adds:
We put a step in the process for businesses that says if you find somebody, please make a donation if you’ve had value out of the service.
Although this initial version of the app is focusing on the employment issues around long-term illness, Short can see potential for a similar service for new mothers looking for work flexibility, or retired people who still want to contribute something through work.
But for now, the Astriid app is right at the beginning of its journey with a very basic first release. The team are focused on raising awareness to build up volume of registrations for both individuals and vacancies.
For the individuals who are successful in securing work via the service, the value will be much more than about the potential to earn, as Fiona Goldsby, a fellow cancer sufferer who has taken on a fund-raising role at Astriid, explains. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour seven years ago, and was told at that point she had between 18 months to three years to live. She adds:
Seven years down the line, I’m not going anywhere. But I was told I was never going to work again. I’m not that sort of person to take that lying down. I needed something for the social side of things. When you’re sitting there all day long on your own, and your family has gone out to work or your kids are off to school, you’re basically just living to die.
People are very important. I volunteered for the fundraising team for Macmillan four years ago. For someone who was told I could never work again, basically I felt useless. I managed to raise just short of £150,000 in under four years. It just motivates you. You’ve got to keep that brain going.
Shutts has a similar outlook on the importance of work for people in his situation. He revealed that he went from a six-figure salary in August 2014, to drawing standard statutory sick pay of £357 a month by August 2015, to earning £11.26 an hour by August 2016 for teaching maths at a local college. He adds:
I was so grateful in 2016 to be teaching maths. It gave me a reason to do something other than think about cancer and the effect it has on my work. We want people to post these jobs whatever they might be, because out there right now are people who think their life has ended and they’ve nothing to get up for and who just live and breathe their illness.
We want to give them an opportunity through Astriid to show you’re still required, your opinion is still valued. Everything will improve just through getting up and going to work.